Feb 272009

This is an interesting little image. I shot it late Thursday afternoon at about 6:30pm. Weather was gloomy, it rained a little, I had no really usable picture so far, and in my desparation I began to take images of this fence corner that juts out a little into the street. It’s hard to tell what made me begin. There is something in the rhythm of light and dark, of entrance and wall, pillars and fence, trees and figures on the pillars, something that caught my eye.

The problem with these shots is, that they need something to balance them on the other, here the left side. Normally I try to use the vanishing point of the street, but this was impossible here. This view goes slightly downhill, and there was too much sky visible, sky that at that time of the day was very much brighter than the buildings. OK, I could have overexposed the sky, it didn’t have much detail anyway, but even then the view along the street was cluttered and did not lend itself at all to my purpose.

The next strategy that I often fall back to, is to use a wild tilt. Not a little bit off level, no, a wild angle that makes some people sea-sick.

Just as I was working in that mindset, I saw this couple come along. I had already focused on the corner of the fence, thus I only had to wait for them to get into the right position.

Now, you don’t have much choice in such a situation. You do what you do and it works or it doesn’t. There is no second chance. In this case it did not work. Not at all.

I still had that angle. Not very wild, but when I later looked at the image, I found that I wanted the fence slightly hanging to the left, and about the middle between door and first fence post to be vertical. Instead of hanging, the fence was rising to the left.

Normally that’s no problem. You just have to rotate the image. On the right side this was absolutely OK, but on the left side, the couple was too near the edge of the frame, and the corner of the door was also very near the top edge. Cropping the image would have meant to cut away the woman and the corner of the door frame. This would have been completely counter-productive, thus I grudgingly accepted the only alternative: major surgery.

Basically I had to fill up a narrow triangle along the lower left edge and a big triangle along the left upper edge. The small triangle was only sidewalk, thus I selected a rectangle, copied it to a separate layer, streched it out to cover the triangle, applied a mask, and in seconds I was done with it.

The problem was the bigger triangle along the upper edge. Stretching over such a big gap would have meant to lose much detail, the perspective would be wrong and making a smooth transition with a mask would be impossible because in the transition area the original detail and the stretched detail would awkwardly overlap. Cloning, on the other hand, was impossible either, because in order to clone, you need material to clone from, and that was simply not there.

I decided for stretching, and consequently this pretty much forced me to use a strong, blurred vignette.

Next came the distribution of light. There was a very strong falloff from right to left, because the nearest light, the fixture inside of the door frame, was by far the brightest light around. And then there were the colors with their equal falloff from very warm on the right side to very cool on the left, in other words, though there was a balance in content, lights and colors were completely unbalanced.

I tried to light the area around the couple and to increase contrast there, to add some warmth in that part, at least in the lighter areas, and to balance that warmth in the highlights with cooler shadows, but whatever I did, it looked unnatural. And then it finally dawned at me: If that image was going to get any good, it would have to do so in B&W!

And really: suddenly all my problems fell away. Black and white is much more forgiving when it comes to drastic contrast changes, and with a combination of different “B&W Layer” adjustments and some masks I could tame the light on the right side, lighten the left, increase contrast along the edges of the fence posts and the fence’s base, making the edges that originally caught my interest come forward. Some added grain evened out the noise and increased subjective sharpness, a high-pass layer added real sharpness, and the tri-toning finally completed the image.

What’s so interesting in that, you ask? Well, it still fascinates me that I could get from an image that I did not like at all, to an image that I deem to be one of my better ones, and that all by working in Potoshop.

This works completely against common wisdom, you know, that kind of “If an image is no good without Photoshop, you can’t improve it there” attitude. This image was no good at all. This was not on the edge of not being a keeper, it was a clear and positive reject. And now, well, your judgement, but I sure like it.

The Song of the Day is “The Perfect Couple” from Paul Heaton’s first solo album, the 2002 release “Fat Chance”. See the video on YouTube.

  4 Responses to “867 – The Perfect Couple”

  1. yes, indeed! I like this piece very much. You don’t know how encouraging it was to read about all the work you went to to salvage it. I always felt like I was having to work too hard to make my images presentable. I’m glad I’m not uncommon! This image tells a wonderful story. Very enjoyable.

  2. Fantastic image, very cinematic and inspiring. I too am still in awe of the results that can be achieved in PS. Thanks for sharing the process.

  3. Great fix. I enjoyed reading through your process. Seeing how others work gives me ideas and confidence in PS. There are so many options to try and rescue “technically challenged” shots.

  4. It was the intrigue of this image, and your description of the process, that led me to work on “November Light” today. One that had been sitting in my archives as flawed, but which I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away…


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